The ratio of disability cases to new jobs has been even worse during the sluggish recovery from the 2007-09 recession. Between January 2010 and December 2011, there were 1,730,000 new jobs and 790,000 new people collecting disability.
This is not just a matter of laid-off workers in their 50s or early 60s qualifying for disability in the years before they become eligible for Social Security old age benefits.
In 2011, 15 percent of disability recipients were in their 30s or early 40s. Concludes Eberstadt, "Collecting disability is an increasingly important profession in America these says."
Disability insurance is no longer a small program. The government transfers some $130 billion obtained from taxpayers or borrowed from purchasers of Treasury bonds to disability beneficiaries every year.
But there is also a human cost. Consider the plight of someone who at some level knows he can work but decides to collect disability payments instead.
That person is not likely to ever seek work again, especially if the sluggish recovery turns out to be the new normal.
He may be gleeful that he was able to game the system or just grimly determined to get what he can in a tough situation. But he will not be able to get the satisfaction of earned success from honest work that contributes something to society and the economy.
I use the masculine pronoun intentionally, because an increasing number of American men have dropped out of the workforce altogether. In 1948, 89 percent of men age 20 and over were in the workforce.
In 2011, 73 percent were. Only a small amount of that change results from an aging population. Jobs have become physically less grueling and economically more rewarding than they were in 1948.
The Americans With Disabilities Act helped many people move forward and contribute to society. The explosive growth of disability insurance has had an opposite effect.